Cyberattackers pose many threats to a wide range of targets. Russia, for example, was accused of hacking Democratic Party computers throughout the year, interfering with the U.S. presidential election. Then there was the unknown attacker who, on a single October day, used thousands of internet-connected devices, such as digital video recorders and cameras compromised by Mirai malware, to take down several high-profile websites, including Twitter.
Deterrence focuses on making potential adversaries think twice about attacking, forcing them to consider the costs of doing so, as well as the consequences that might come from a counterattack. There are two main principles of deterrence. The first, denial, involves convincing would-be attackers that they won’t succeed, at least without enormous effort and cost beyond what they are willing to invest. The second is punishment: Making sure the adversaries know there will be a strong response that might inflict more harm than they are willing to bear.
Cybersecurity aids deterrence primarily through the principle of denial. It stops attacks before they can achieve their goals. This includes beefing up login security, encrypting data and communications, fighting viruses and other malware, and keeping software updated to patch weaknesses when they’re found.